Spare Changes in Faith

"Oh, we are having a great time, thank you," the woman said. "I can't believe how clean it is here, too," she added.

I had just come from Sixth and Howard streets, where I had gingerly walked around a man who was excreting in a doorway. I suppose this showed on my face, because the tourists seemed shocked at my shock.

"I mean, compared to other places," the woman continued.

I guess she was right. As I said, I need to start seeing things through fresh eyes. One man's Calcutta is another man's, er, San Francisco.

The couple was going to the Metreon, so I pointed them in the right direction. They would have to pass the beggar woman outside on their way, and I wanted to see how they would handle it. As expected, they were uncomfortable and wary. They hadn't yet developed the steely detachment needed to walk through SOMA.

The man fumbled for some change and placed it in Shirley's hand. She mumbled her thanks and quickly moved to the next passerby. She was ignored by most, but tourists felt moved to give her money. If I sat there long enough, I thought, I could really see God working a lot.

I finished my drink and knew the moment of truth would come, when I would have to pass the lady again and blow her off, offer her more (rejected) food, or give her change. It was clear in my head what I was supposed to do, according to the Bhagavad-Gita: Give her money. But then the Bible saying came into my head: "God helps those who help themselves ... to go buy drugs."

Fuck it, I thought. I gave her some coins. She mumbled her thanks with rheumy eyes and chapped lips. "God bless you," she said.

Amen.

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